Respect (apaciti, cittãkàra or gàrava) is a feeling of admiration towards someone's virtues or achievements and expressing that admiration through words and actions. The English word comes from the Latin re spectum meaning `to look again' or `to look more carefully.' When we first encounter people, we may form an impression of them which is wrong or incomplete but which becomes fixed. To respect a person is to be open enough to take time getting to know them better, giving them the opportunity to reveal other sides of their character, making the effort to become aware of their good qualities and, where appropriate, to honour those qualities. The Buddha said that the ability to feel respect is a great blessing (Sn.265).
From the Buddhist perspective everyone is worthy of our respect because everyone, even the most ignorant or the most evil, has the potential to become enlightened. But we can respect things other than people : we can respect animals, different religions, the property of others and the environment. The Buddha said it is good to respect virtues such as hospitality, discipline and awareness (D.III,244). By this he meant that we should not take such things lightly but rather welcome them into our lives and feel happy to have them. When Buddhists do a pūjā and place flowers, lights and incense before a statue of the Buddha, they are respecting his great achievements.
Respect is the acknowledgement that all sentient beings have the same basic physical, psychological, and spiritual needs, and that another’s experience and wisdom can be helpful to us.
Aspects of Respect
Functional: All beings want happiness and to avoid suffering.
We are essentially no different from each other, no matter who we are. We share the same urge toward happiness, and not one of us leaves this life without having suffered. As the Buddha said, “All beings everywhere want to be happy.” It is only due to ignorance that we do the things that create suffering or sorrow for ourselves and for others. If we take the time to slow down and see all the different forces coming together in any action, we will see this desire for happiness even in the midst of some terribly harmful action. While we can and should take a strong stand against harmful behavior, we can do so without disconnecting ourselves from anyone. This is compassion and loving-kindness based on clear seeing. It is respect for the fundamental Great Perfection of each and every sentient being.
Moral: All beings are sentient, and their feelings are equally important.
The root of the Buddha’s moral teaching is empathy —understanding that all beings want to be happy and that suffering hurts others in the same way that it hurts us. We learn not to hurt others because we understand how it feels to be hurt. If others are seen as sentient beings rather than as objects, there arises a clear and true sense of morality, and the pain that others experience becomes painful to us. Empathy is the most fundamental manifestation of respect.
Perceptual: All beings are essentially non-different.
Perfection is the fundamental quality of the true nature or essential beingness of all living entities. It is described as unconditioned, boundless, nurturing, sustaining, and permanent. It is not evident to worldly vision as a result of (1) afflictive emotions and (2) conceptual obscurations. However, as these are abandoned through practice, Great Perfection manifests spontaneously.
Great Perfection is characterized as True Purity, True Self, True Bliss, and True Permanence. The truth of suffering manifests as the ultimate reality of True Purity. The truth of the cause of suffering manifests as the ultimate reality of True Self. The truth of cessation of suffering manifests as the ultimate reality of True Bliss. The truth of the path to cessation of suffering manifests as the ultimate reality of True Permanence.
Great Perfection is not a conceptually-defined construct, but is rather the fulfillment of our ultimate benefit (one’s own liberation and enlightenment), the benefit of others (those with whom we have a karmic connection in this lifetime), and Great (universal) Benefit.
Cultivating the View of the Great Perfection leads us to:
1) avoid views of others as inferior
2) avoid views of ourselves as superior
3) eliminate the delusion of separation
4) adhere to the truth of equality
5) sever attachment to (false) self